November 05, 2010
Ages ago, there was a radio play-by-play announcer that went by the name of Bill Stern. And while everyone considered Bill to be a pretty significant talent behind the microphone, he was notorious for misidentifying football players from up above in that television-free press box, especially on long runs.
I'm having a hard time finding any evidence of it online, but more than once Stern (having realized that, say, "Johnson" was about to score a touchdown after he went on and on about how "Smith" was bounding toward the end zone) saved his own tail on the audio-only broadcasts by telling his listeners (upon realizing his mistake) that "Smith laterals to Johnson for the touchdown!" Knowing full well, of course, that the next day's newspapers would only provide a report of Johnson scoring a touchdown, but little description beyond that.
Years into Stern's career, a radio voice by the name of Clem McCarthy misidentified the winner of the 1947 Preakness Stakes on air, which is kind of important because the main reason people watch horse racing is to gamble, and it's possible some winning tickets were torn up in frustration after the race and before McCarthy realized his error and corrected it on air.
Stern took great delight (because that's what they did in the 1940s -- take great delight) in ribbing McCarthy about the mistake following the race, but McCarthy (mindful of Stern's previous on-air fumbles) shot him down with a good one: "You can't lateral a horse, Bill."
Nice. It remains my favorite non-sequitur, since the day I heard it. Back in 1947. Because I'm that old.
What does this have to do with the NBA? Well, respected TNT play-by-play man Kevin Harlan lost track of the score in the waning moments of Oklahoma City's one-point win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night, and excitedly announced that Portland had tied the game with an Armon Johnson(notes) 3-pointer at the buzzer, though the make only made it so the Blazers would be losing by one:
You can't lateral a Trail Blazer, Kevin. Though I'd like to see you try.